That tone, though, did not seem to filter into the parties’ retreats.
Democrats spent last week talking outside of Washington – senators in Annapolis, representatives in Lansdowne. While Obama spoke to both groups, warning that “we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom,” he insisted that revenue – raising taxes and closing tax loopholes – had to be part of any agreement to avoid the March 1 cuts.
“If that’s an argument that they (Republicans) want to have before the court of public opinion, that is an argument I’m more than willing to engage in,” he said.
Republicans were just as adamant. Senators met at the Library of Congress last week, and House members retreated to Williamsburg, Va., last month. While Republicans routinely lamented the sequester, they vowed to reject any alternative that included new revenue.
The Republican strategy over the next few weeks is taking two forms. One, led by a group worried about the impact of Pentagon cuts, is to offer spending-cut-only alternatives to the sequester. The other is to just let it happen.
Lawmakers active in military affairs have a plan that would raise $85 billion by reducing the federal workforce and freezing congressional pay. The number of federal employees would shrink by 10 percent through attrition.
Next week, committees will hear testimony from top military officials about the impact of sequestration.
“I think what they will tell us at that hearing is we are really in dire straits,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
Republicans, though, are also prepared to accept the automatic cuts. If no reasonable alternative can be found, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., “that’s actually the preferred option.”
Republicans have a solid House majority, but Democrats control the Senate and are drawing up a sequester alternative that’s expected to include revenues. A vote could occur in late February.
Democrats are feeling feisty and resolute.
“The election results really energized us,” said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Obama drew applause at his Thursday lunchtime speech to House Democrats, telling them that it was “important for us to make sure we’ve got a strong national defense and that we reduce our spending in a smart way.”
But he added: “We sure as heck should be willing to ask those of us who are luckiest in this society to close a few loopholes and deductions that the average American doesn’t get. And if that’s the choice that we’ve got, I promise you we can win that debate because we’re on the right side of this argument. And I expect that you guys will be with me on that.”
Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed.